After nearly seven years, in 2018, Mission Springs Water District (MSWD) in California’s Coachella Valley region returned to the medal category in international water-tasting competition. The District secured the bronze award at The Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. Held annually in Berkeley Springs, WV, the competition is touted as “the world’s most prestigious.” The district went on to take “Best Municipal Water in the World” in 2020.

General Manager/Chief Engineer Arden Wallum says protecting water quality has been central to MSWD’s mission for decades. “Our water is of excellent quality for a reason. We have worked very hard with our customers for many years to ensure they understand how special it is,” he said.

Just before their first big win, the District turned its attention to quality issues of equal, if not greater, importance. Looking down the road, MSWD management could see the writing on the wall: Two new pieces of legislation had passed in the State House that would set the bar for environmental compliance in water conservation in California. A warming trend in recent years has also contributed to drier winters, resulting in a constant state of drought throughout the state.

Empowering Communities

It simply wasn’t going to be enough to leave water customers to their own devices. The District understands that people, though caring about water conservation, have busy lives and simply don’t have enough time to pay as much attention to everything they should. Management knew they would have to implement new technology to help customers control their own conservation efforts.

“It is quite well known that in the world of water, in order to meet our future demands, we’re all going to have to team up and work together,” says Wallum. “So technology that can help us watch our usage, and allow us to control that usage and develop a culture of conservation that we need, is imperative. It’s essential.”

Director of Utilities for Subeca, John Soulliere, agrees. “Water districts in the future will not be able to accomplish their mission and mandate without engaging the customer, not just as a customer, but as a partner. The burden of compliance is on the water agency, not the customer. Yet (conservation success) is all about controlling what the customer does with their water. It’s a dilemma the industry has struggled with for decades.”

Technology To The Rescue

MSWD Vice President Russ Martin immediately championed a technological solution. “Water is not an infinite resource. We have to protect it, and we have to do a good job of monitoring it. Prepare for the future. New technology is the way we’re going to have to move in order to get that done.”

Ivan Sewell, MSWD Director, backed up that idea. “We can do our best to educate them (customers), but at the end of the day, the end user is who’s in charge of how much water gets used.”

Education is one thing, but empowerment with actionable, up-to-the-minute data would be the linchpin to real control over water use to MSWD customers.

Enter Subeca and its new Subeca Water Management System.

In 2017, MSWD was awarded a grant to implement the Subeca Smart Water Grid System, when it was still known as Seco Sys. This platform allows water agencies, customers, and water related services to concurrently engage in water conservation at all water use endpoints. Soulliere explains:

“Subeca has the ability to take an existing—frankly “dumb”—water meter, and within about five to ten minutes, make that very same meter not smart, but genius. The Bluetooth application on a Subeca Register means that I—as a customer—can walk out with my smartphone, turn on my dishwasher or my shower, and literally map my water use appliances to understand exactly how much water they’re using, and when they’re running. Then, when I’m not home and I see something turned on, I can have a good idea of whether that’s my irrigation system and it should be running, or it’s something else that should not be running.”

In this way, customers can immediately discover water leaks, and use the Bluetooth smartphone app to turn off their ACT customer valve before the leak does major, costly-to-repair damage.

April Scott, MSWD Accountant and Customer Service Manager, sums it up neatly:

The easy way to explain it is that it gives customers control. Whether you’re at your property, away from your property, or traveling, you can see your consumption and usage in real time. The customer actually has data at their fingertips. There’s a lot of opportunity for savings in different ways.”

Those savings opportunities will be the subject of our next post.